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Gawker Media Puts Up “For Sale” Sign After Hulk Hogan Lawsuit Leaves Company Bankrupt

Gawker Media Puts Up "For Sale" Sign After Hulk Hogan Lawsuit  Leaves Company Bankrupt

Gawker Media, the irreverent company that pioneered the wry tone and take-no-prisoners approach that came to embody a certain style of web journalism, put itself up for sale on Friday in an acknowledgment that its future as an independent news organization was in doubt.

Gawker said it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and would conduct a sale through an auction. The company is under significant financial pressure from a $140 million legal judgment in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit by the former wrestler Hulk Hogan and facing a determined foe in the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who is funding legal cases against it.

Ziff Davis, a digital media company, has submitted an opening bid, which a person briefed on Gawker’s plans said was in the range of $90 million to $100 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sale process. Gawker expects a sale to close by the end of the summer.

But even as Gawker took stock of its next steps, it remained, in typical fashion, defiant.

“Even with his billions, Thiel will not silence our writers,” Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder and chief executive, said on Twitter. “Our sites will thrive — under new ownership — and we’ll win in court.” (Mr. Denton, through a spokesman, declined further comment.)

Since its founding in 2002, Gawker has espoused a conversational tone that came to be mimicked across the internet and on social platforms like Twitter. Gawker and its affiliated sites — including the sports-focused Deadspin and Jezebel, which is aimed at women — have relentlessly and gleefully chronicled the lives of the powerful, and often delivered attention-grabbing, exclusive stories, some of them too over-the-edge for other publications. The company was also an incubator of talent: Employees went on to found websites like The Awl and work at publications like The New Yorker and Time.

Gawker also had many detractors, who said it often went too far and published items with little news value that aimed to embarrass individuals. But over the last year Gawker.com has been going through something of a cultural transformation. Mr. Denton has vowed to make the site nicer and Gawker has shifted to politics and away from coverage of the New York media world and celebrity gossip.

The decision to file for bankruptcy and put itself up for sale is the latest development for a company that has faced a seemingly unending barrage of bad news in the last year. There was the maelstrom last summer after Gawker published, and then removed, an article about a married male media executive who sought to hire a gay escort. That decision led to the resignations of two top editors. More recently, there was the lawsuit by Mr. Hogan, whose real name is Terry G. Bollea, which has roiled the company and raised questions about its path forward.

“It really was an incredibly bad year,” said Hamilton Nolan, a writer who has worked at Gawker for eight years. “I think they’ll study this in journalism schools one day as being the single worst year in media company history.”

In Gawker’s new offices in Manhattan on Friday, the mood was somber. Around noon, Mr. Denton and Heather Dietrick, the company’s president and general counsel, held a meeting to inform employees of the company’s plans and provide reassurance that Gawker would operate as usual during the sale process.

“They emphasized that the future is uncertain, but for now we’re going to keep doing what we do, and that was useful for people to hear,” said Alex Pareene, the editor in chief of Gawker.

Employees said that few people had known before the meeting of the company’s decision to file for bankruptcy. A keg of beer was brought in and pizzas were ordered.

“It was not a raucous or even particularly depressing affair,” Mr. Pareene said. “We’ve had more depressing meetings and we’ve had more argumentative meetings.”

 

 

 

By Sydney Ember

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